START WITH UNITY as a given. Then we’ll stand a chance of reaching some agreement in the Church of England. There’ll be no agreement unless we start with unity as a given. We are already united in Christ. God’s achievement, not ours. Start there, a joy-filled place to start, and agreement may follow. Unity isn’t dependent on us. It’s dependent on God. Already given.

Optimistic stuff from Archbishop Sentamu in a wide-ranging address to clergy and lay ministers of the Diocese of Chester at the Cathedral tonight. Invited to speak on The Challenges Facing The Church of England Today we might well have been there all night – given the archbishop’s first-hand knowledge of the size and complexity of some of those (human) challenges. Could have been. But weren’t. For the archbishop didn’t stay with merely human challenges, thank God. He’s an archbishop, after all. And he saved what I thought the best line of a half-hour or so address – yes: a bit like the wine! – until last.

“The Challenges Facing The Church of England Today? GOD“.

Amen! God first. Perfect underlining of our need to start with Unity as a given. As a God-given. As a God-is. Preceded by an archi-episcopal admonition: “if you want to talk about doctrine, ask yourself how your doctrine matches up to Jesus” – (do you love God’s people or do you just like preaching to them?) – God was presented fairly and squarely as the biggest and the best challenge facing the Church. And there, ultimately, I believe, lies the salvation of the Church and of the world: in that Divine challenge, in the Divine invitation to each of us that we remember who God is, and who God is not ( – is, and is not, limited, in both cases, by the provisionality of our human imaginations).

God is not our possession, not a celestial-Santa-Claus-in-the-sky. We may not command God. God is not made in our image. We do not have God all worked out. God is “immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light, inaccessible, hid from our eyes”. And God has already given unity, as surely as God has given life. God is Life, and that “in all its fullness”. Our unity can only ever be in our resting in that Life, in God’s Otherness. Beyond. And yet also incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, as in every single element of the Universe. United elements. Given elements. Given prophets, priests, kings and a Christ. United in God the Word before we’d begun to string words together.

Unity as a given. Perhaps that’s what’s behind the archbishop’s being able, cheerfully, to say: “I’m blessed. I’m the luckiest man in the Province!”

I’ll post a link to the Archbishop’s address if and when it becomes available here